As the NBA season hastily approaches the Feb. 7 trade deadline, what world-renowned scholars classify as “smoke season” begins. For the Los Angeles Lakers, who are an always present party when it comes to the league’s rumor mill, the latest name to have drawn ties to the team is former All-Star — and one-time Hawk — Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony, who will now technically be on his fourth team in just two seasons, was recently traded along with cash, from Houston to Chicago earlier in the week after yet another failed experiment that tried to mesh him with other high-profile talent.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Chicago will look to either flip or waive Anthony before he suits up for the team, with the Lakers reportedly possessing “interest” in the former scoring champion.
Wojnarowski also noted Los Angeles had no current plans of creating a roster spot if Anthony were to hit the open market, but if a spot were to be made available, the purple and gold could reportedly be a “possible destination.”
Although stylistically clashing in each of his last few stops, there remains a vocal portion of Lakers fans who feel acquiring Anthony — either through trade or free-agency — would be a wise move.
While it’s true the team could benefit from extra scoring punch, and more importantly simply having another warm body, there are several reasons for the Lakers to be hesitant, and look elsewhere when it comes to improving the roster in preparation for LeBron James’ return.
Anthony’s aforementioned struggles to jell with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and — more recently — Chris Paul and James Harden definitely didn’t create the best reference list for his next potential employers.
But what may arguably be worse than his inability to coexist with star talent has been the precipitous drop in his on-court production.
Despite getting better looks by playing with star-caliber talent, Anthony has sported consecutive career lows in points per shot attempt (total points scored per 100 shot attempts including when fouled) and had his worst true-shooting percentage ever last season with the Thunder.
In an era predicated on being efficient and valuing threes over twos, Anthony has simply struggled to keep pace despite making genuine alterations to his shot profile in his ten games with the hyper-analytically driven Rockets this season.
Prior to his departure from Houston, Anthony was taking the lowest frequency of his attempts from midrange in concert with his highest frequency of threes of his career according to Cleaning the Glass.
While that may sound like a positive, it’s kind of damning that even with those offensive adjustments, Anthony was still swiftly removed from the Rockets’ rotation and is now once again in NBA limbo.
For the Lakers, any appeal of bringing Anthony in outside his friendship with James, would gravitate towards his potential value as a perimeter threat off of James’ drives. Los Angeles is currently 28th in the league in 3-point percentage (34 percent) and has struggled mightily to hit their outside chances this season.
Despite surprisingly making 45.8 percent of his “open” attempts from deep with Houston, Anthony still only shot a below-average 32.8 percent from three overall in ten games this year, his lowest mark in a decade.
Plus, on a Lakers team predicated on playing with pace and sharing the ball — to say nothing of the way L.A. mostly succeeds with its defense — there is also the genuine concern of Anthony disrupting the offense by pounding the ball into oblivion.
Anthony is known for his preference for working out of isolations on the elbow, or operating on the low block, and his game does not immediately jump off the page as a clean fit for the high-tempo Lakers.
There is also the question of his passing acumen. A decorated scorer in his younger years, which harmfully may still be how he perceives himself today, Anthony has rarely been thought of as a playmaker in his career — with good reason.
Prior to his last two seasons, Anthony’s previous lowest assist percentage of his career was 13.1 percent — in his rookie year. With the Thunder, Anthony had an assist percentage of 6.1 percent, and with Houston this season, he posted a dismal 2.9 assist percentage (1st percentile among forwards, which is the opposite of good) according to Cleaning the Glass.
While Anthony’s usage and opportunities to make plays for his teammates were indeed lower playing with the likes of Westbrook and Harden, it is still alarming to see such a low percentage of his touches end with an assist.
And even taking into account Anthony’s transition from on-ball scorer to spot up shooter, Anthony’s assist-to-usage ratio (how often a player gets an assist given how much they have the ball) ranked last among forwards this season.
What little Anthony could still possibly offer on the offensive end is arguably diluted by the fact that he has been an atrocious defender in recent seasons.
The forward was publicly picked on in high pick-and-roll possessions during the Thunder’s loss to the Jazz in last year’s playoff matchup, and he couldn't offer any resistance or stay in front of his man.
And despite being a member of one of the best defensive teams in the league in Oklahoma City, Anthony individually ranked 429th out of 521 players in defensive real-plus minus. That trend continued in his short time in Houston as the Rockets gave up less points per 100 possessions with Anthony off the floor, and were a +3.1 overall when he sat in the ten games he played this year before leaving the team back in November.
It’s understandable why the Lakers are considering a player with a reputation for scoring like Anthony with their season-long struggles to score in the half court in mind, but Anthony doesn’t fit the profile of a player who can help the Lakers offensively — if he can help them at all — and almost certainly can’t help enough on offense to make up for his adverse effect on the team’s defense. There should be no confusing his reputation for current production.
Anthony was once a great player. Now 34, Anthony is the last of what may already be an extinct breed.
Although his shot profile tinkering in Houston is a sign of optimism in terms of self-awareness, it is difficult to truly view him as unequivocally better than anyone on the current Lakers’ roster, or worth swapping anything for, which speaks volumes to how far Anthony has sunk in his professional career.
Anthony may ultimately be destined for Los Angeles given the amount of smoke tying both parties to each other, but if the team is serious about surrounding James and company with better talent, they are likely better off looking elsewhere.